Friday, July 22, 2011


By Valerie Strauss | Washington Post Answer Sheet blog |

01:46 PM ET, 07/21/2011 - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who strongly supports school reform that centers on standardized test-based accountability for students, schools and teachers, has decided to send his children to a private school that doesn’t obsess on standardized tests.

Emanuel, who served in the White House as President Obama’s chief of staff for a few years, and his wife have chosen, according to a local radio station CBS News 2 in Chicago, to send their three children to the prestigious University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in Hyde Park.

It’s the same school that President Obama’s daughters attended when they lived in Chicago. Sasha and Malia Obama now attend the private Sidwell Friends School.

The decision where to send your children to school is certainly a personal one, even for public officials. But it is worth publicly noting what public officials who support test-based school reform — including Obama’s main education initiative, Race to the Top -- choose to do with their own children when given the chance.

Obama and now Emanuel opted for schools that do not require teachers to spend hours a week drilling kids to pass standardized tests, and they don’t evaluate teachers by how well their students do on those assessments. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his wife send their children to Arlington public schools in Virginia.

Neither the Arlington Public School system, nor Sidwell, nor The Lab Schools, assess teachers by student standardized test grades, which is a bad idea sweeping the country, encouraged by the Obama administration.

When a veteran teacher asked Sidwell whether its ties teacher pay to test scores, he received this response from a faculty member on April 1, 2011: “We don’t tie teacher pay to test scores because we don’t believe them to be a reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness.”

Sidwell knows better. The Lab Schools know better. The Arlington Public School District knows better.

In fact, the Chicago Lab Schools began cutting some Advanced Placement academic courses — which have an end-of-course exam that can earn a student credit at some colleges with a high score — after a junior in AP U.S. history wrote a column published in the Los Angeles Times in which he declared himself an AP dropout. Why? He wrote: “We don't have time to really learn U.S. history because we're preparing for the exam”

The school has replaced AP offerings in the art, history and science departments with courses created by faculty members called Advanced Topics, which, according to a back-to-school letter to parents last year from high school Principal Matthew Horvat, “will allow for pursuing topics in far greater depth than they’ve been able to in the past.”

At a forum with high school students earlier this year, Emanuel said he wants schools to put less focus on standardized tests, a welcome sentiment. In fact, Obama himself suggested earlier this year that kids take too many standardized tests.

But any policy that makes teacher evaluation and pay contingent on how well their students do on test scores inherently raises the importance of that test, wouldn’t you think? What these public officials say and what they do regarding policy are two different things.

Meanwhile, Emanuel was none too happy about being asked about the choice of school for his children, as shown when he stormed out of an interview with Mary Ann Ahern of NBC Chicago.

You can read her account of the moment, but here’s one part of it, a retelling of the conversation she had when she called him back after hours after he left the interview in a huff. Wrote Ahern:

“My children are private and you will not do this," he said into the receiver. 

“He said other children of public figures - Chelsea Clinton and the Obama girls - have been kept out of the public eye, despite media attention on the admission to the Sidwell Friends Academy in Washington D.C.
I tried to explain he had a point, but their parents too had to answer the question of what school they would attend. No one is trying to have lunch with the first children.

I also let him know that I felt wronged and bullied during his earlier tirade. “You are wrong and a bully," Emanuel fired back. "I care deeply for my family. I don't care about you."

With that, he hung up the phone.

Quite the temper tantrum.

As I said earlier, where to send a child to school is a personal family choice.

My two daughters went to a private school, too, Georgetown Day School in Washington D.C., a city with a public school system that has long had what I consider an unhealthy obsession with standardized tests. (Of course, I’m not trying to shove high-stakes testing policies down anyone’s throat.)

The problem is not testing itself. What is corrupting public education is the high stakes that are put on the results of standardized tests. In Chicago, Emanuel’s commitment to this will only make things worse in the public schools. But not for his kids.

No comments: